Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

April 18, 2024

Blood Memories: Indigenous Women on the Frontlines Inspire with Words and Action

Dr. Michelle Cook, human rights lawyer and founder of Divest Invest Protect speaks on energy transition and divestment during the first of two panels on Wednesday, hosted by WECAN, at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Photo courtesy WECAN.

Blood Memories: Indigenous Women on the Frontlines 
Inspire with Words and Action

By Brenda Norrell, Censored News, April 17, 2024

NEW YORK -- Indigenous women around the world are battling fossil fuels, mining, exploitation and oppression. The abuse of Mother Earth is directly connected to the violence against Indigenous women.

Women's Earth and Climate Action Network International hosted Indigenous women on panels during the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on Wednesday.

Osprey Orielle Lake, WECAN executive director, opened the session calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, an end to the oppression, and return of the hostages.

"The killing must be stopped now," she said.

Indigenous women speak on the struggles, from the battle to halt the Mountain Valley  pipeline and protect their burial places, to Anishinaabe protecting the water and animals around the Great Lakes and the battles against mining in the Amazon, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil and Peru.

Casey Camp-Horinek, Ponca, human rights defender, global justice advocate, voice for nature. Photo WECAN

Casey Camp-Horinek, Ponca, spoke to the hearts of women, during the panel, Indigenous Women Upholding Indigenous Rights and Leading Climate Solutions.

Casey said when she looks out at those gathered here, she thinks of the Ponca song, "My Mother, You're Good." She sings this song, and then remembers.

Casey remembers her mother who was kidnapped when she was six years old and taken away to boarding schools, away from her people, her language and rivers. The children who were kidnapped and taken to those boarding schools were tortured, and suffered physical, sexual, mental and spiritual abuse -- but they survived.

"Many came back crippled in the minds and the hearts."

Their DNA and their blood memories meant that they remembered what it means to be Ponca.

As a child, Casey tried to understand how to live in a square house, instead of a round home. She heard some people speak of their religion and say the words, "God fearing," but her mother said, "God loving." When others said everything was a resource and for sale, her folks felt everything was the source of life. 

"It was our joy, our honor to care for the children to raise," she said. And they understood that the community gardens were for all people.

With the changing times, the sacred way of life today means that the people know what the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is, and they know how to use it, and how to demand those rights.

Casey said this is a time for the people to arise, and share the teachings of their  people, and to help with the re-balancing. It is time to uphold the men, which has been out of balance, because they have forgotten their sacred duties because of their depression.

Calling on the women to arise and fulfill their destinies, with the empowerment that runs through their bloodlines, she said, "We know who we are as Ponca."

"I'm very proud to be here today," she said, thanking the organizers of the event.

Premiering a new video, "Indigenous Knowledge is a Climate Solution," Casey shares the history and culture of her people.

Dr. Michelle Cook, Dine', human rights lawyer and founder of Divest Invest Protect, spoke on a just transition, pointing out that with the transition to the green economy, there are the challenges of critical minerals located on Indigenous lands.

"There is this false flag of a green economy."

Women continue to be affected by the onslaught of colonization and invasion, she said. There is still much work to be done within the United Nations, because there are states that still do not honor free, prior and informed consent.

Credit Suisse, one of the funders of the Dakota Access Pipeline, collapsed last year. It was this battle for divestment that led her to organize Indigenous women's delegations through Europe and to the United Nations in Geneva. There they met with banking and financing executives.

"Credit Suisse is no longer here, for exactly what we warned Credit Suisse about."

"We are not out of the woods yet, we need international solidarity," she said, encouraging the resistance to protect  Appalachia.

Dr. Cook spoke of the need for healing and love, and the better treatment of women, to ensure a bright future together.

Speaking of the battle to stop the Mountain Valley gas pipeline in North Carolina, Dr. Crystal A Cavalier said, "It is a pipeline to nowhere."

Dr. Cavalier, Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, said the pipeline is going through her peoples burial places and today they are unable to gather their medicines and fish. She is co-founder of 7 Directions of Service of Turtle Island. 

President Whitney Gravelle, Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan. WECAN photo.

President Whitney Gravelle, Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan, shared a video, describing the threat of Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline in the Great Lakes. Line 5 has already spilled more than 30 times into the Great Lakes.

The video shares the message of water.

"We understand you can't live without water."

 "Women and water are sacred, women and water are the same."

During the panel, President Gravelle said Line 5 runs through 16 Native Nations in the Great Lakes region and the aging pipeline, constructed in 1953, is endangering the region. The Treaties guarantee Anishinaable their rights and use of the water.

"Anishinaabe rely on all of that came before -- the plants, the animals, the sky -- and the water, to be able to survive, and it is important to protect these resources, not just for ourselves, but for everyone else, the future generations."

Speaking on the need to protect this vast region of water, she said, "The Great Lakes are the heart of Turtle Island."

Majo Andrade Cerda, Kichwa, Kichwa People of Serena, CONFENIAE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon) Photo WECAN

Majo Andrade Cerda, Kichwa, described her struggle to get an education and her current efforts, which now includes confronting Canadian officials for mining in Ecuador.

"Because we are saying 'No,' we are being criminalized," said Majo. The women are fighting the mining companies who are poisoning the rivers. She said mercury is not only poisoning the rivers, but it is a danger for women's bodies.

Majo is from the Kichwa People of Serena, and leader of economy and community development of CONFENIAE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon.)

Shirley Krenak, Krenak, founder of Shirley Djukurna Krenak Institute, co-founder of ANMIGA in Brazil. Photo WECAN

Shirley Krenak, Krenak, said there were once 40,000 of her people, and today there are only one-thousand because of the crimes of the dictatorship era.

"My people don't rely on words, they rely on actions," she said, referring to the  apologies, and the acts of disrespect that follow. Shirley is a filmmaker, and founder of the Shirley Djukurna Krenak Institute, co-founder of ANMIGA, Brazil.

Krenak live in Brazil’s state of Minas Gerais, north ofof Sao Paulo. They survived massacres, beatings, torture and the taking of their land by Brazilian farmers. A natural disaster led to a dam breaking in 2015, resulting in mining waste, toxic sludge, flowing through and poisoning Krenak homeland.

Luzbeidy Monterrosa, Wayuu, Colombia. Photo WECAN

Mining companies are poisoning the water in Colombia, and Indigenous children are in desperate need of water and food, said Luzbeidy Monterrosa, Wayuu, whose people live near the Venezuela border.

There is a high death rate for children, said Luzbeidy, a filmmaker and founder of Shinyak Kashikai in Colombia.

Taily Terena, Terena Nation youth and Indigenous rights activist from Brazil, said the water is not coming back in the rivers. The places where she once went diving and swimming is now shallow. In her community, they know what climate change is. 

"The water is too hot, it is boiling the fish."

Taily said the process to be a part of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was so complicated that she can not be part of it, but here in this room, she can share her voice. 

Olivia Bisa Tirko, Chapra Nation, President of the Autonomous Territorial Government of the Chapra Nation. Photo WECAN

Olivia Bisa Tirko, Chapra Nation, President of the Autonomous Territorial Government of the Chapra Nation, joined WECAN's panel on Wednesday.

President Bisa said, "Chapra have a saying, 'Oil is the blood of the earth.'"

"We are autonomous, that is why we are kicking out all the oil corporations from our territory."

Amazon Watch tells her story.

"In the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, Olivia Bisa, the first female president of the Chapra Nation, stands as a beacon of courage and resilience.

"Her tireless efforts to address the devastating oil spills that ravaged her ancestral territory in 2021 have made her a target of threats and attacks. Since then, Olivia has faced mounting pressure to cease her work, with ominous death threats and intimidating messages accusing her of obstructing the interests of “companies.”

"Despite these dangers, Olivia remains unwavering in her commitment to defend her people and their land. She has emerged as a powerful Indigenous voice, leading the charge against the expansion of oil operations in the Peruvian Amazon. Organizing patrols and monitoring systems for the Chapra Nation, Olivia works relentlessly to prevent the incursion of illegal loggers into their sacred territories," Amazon Watch said.

As the panels came to a close, with the laughter and joy of being together, Osprey closed the gathering with these words, "We never forget that the women here are putting their bodies on the line."

(Above) Michelle Cook, Dine' founder of Divest Invest Protect, said the message of Indigenous human rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, was delivered to 28 investors and businesses, nine state representatives, and ten of the world’s largest donors. Divest Invest Protect told Rio Tinto, "Seek Consent!"

Rio Tinto blew up 46,000 years of Aboriginal Australian history and culture preserved in caves, and now is targeting Oak Flat, Apaches ceremonial place in Arizona, with a copper mine.

Watch WECAN's recorded video for the complete panels:

Read more:

Associated Press Brazil

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Indigenous representatives from 35 countries issued a declaration Thursday criticizing the fact that they are too rarely consulted about mining that takes place on or near their lands, an issue that has become more acute with increased demand for minerals needed in the transition to a cleaner energy system.

“We recognize and support the need to end fossil fuel reliance and shift to renewable energy as critical in addressing the climate crisis,” the statement read. “However, the current trajectory of the energy transition fails to meet the criteria of justice, social equity, and environmental sustainability, particularly from the perspectives of Indigenous Peoples’ rights and well-being.”

The document comes out of the Conference on Indigenous Peoples and the Just Transition which took place in New York last week. Indigenous leaders from the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Kenya, Australia and Norway among other countries attended.

Lithium, nickel and cobalt are often used in batteries, which are key to both electric vehicles and extending production from solar and wind farms. Copper and aluminum are in higher demand as countries expand their electrical grids. Lesser-known rare earth elements are used in magnets in electric motors.

Mining has left a legacy of environmental damage in many places for more than a century and is now expanding.

The declaration also mentioned increasing criminal persecution and attacks against Indigenous leaders.

The statement called out both the International Council of Mining and Metals, a trade group that says it represents a third of the industry, and the International Seabed Authority, for failing to respect Indigenous rights and conducting what it calls business as usual. Neither group responded to queries from The Associated Press.

About half of energy transition minerals and metal projects are located on or near the lands of Indigenous and other subsistence farmers, according to a study published in 2022 by the journal Nature Sustainability.

“We are those who generate the least impact on the planet,” Ruth Alipaz Cuqui, an Indigenous leader from the Bolivian Amazon who attended the conference, told the AP in a phone interview. “But even so, we understand that we have to be part of this whole process.” That participation should be comprehensive or else the energy transition will not be fair, she said.

Alipaz Cuqui cited conflicts in the arid region of Uyuni, Bolivia, where local communities oppose the intense use of water to produce lithium. The project, still in its beginnings, is a joint venture between Bolivia and China. The Bolivian Ministry of Energy did not respond to a request for comment.

The lead organizer for the conference was the Indigenous Peoples Rights International, a nonprofit registered in the Philippines and the U.S., with financial support from Nia Tero, a nonprofit that supports Indigenous rights, The Christensen Fund, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Waverley ST Foundation, and the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, according to the event website.

About the author

Brenda Norrell has been a news reporter in Indian country for 42 years, beginning at Navajo Times during the 18 years that she lived on the Navajo Nation. She was a correspondent for The Associated Press and USA Today. After serving as a longtime staff reporter for Indian Country Today, she was censored and terminated. She created Censored News in 2006. Today, with 23 million page views, there are no ads or revenues. It is a service to Indigenous Peoples and human rights. Norrell has a master's degree in international health, focused on water, nutrition and infectious diseases.

Copyright Brenda Norrell, Censored News.

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